Two patients had contacted the Lake County Health Department independently regarding becoming ill after eating at a Chili’s Grill & Bar in Vernon Hills, Illinois. This prompted the LCHD to send investigators to the restaurant to inspect it.
What they found was disturbing. The restaurant’s dishwashing machine was broken and corroded; the tube that fed chlorine into the machine was plugged, preventing proper sanitization of dishes. Employees told the investigators that the machine had not worked properly for at least a week. In fact, according to the LCHD Final Report, "[e]mployees had wrapped plastic bags around the line to stop the chlorine from spraying into the air." Despite the obvious broken condition of the dishwasher, the restaurant management still had done nothing to get the machine repaired.
During their inspection, the investigators also found food not stored at proper temperatures in the cooler. And following questioning of the on-duty manager, investigators learned that three employees, plus another manager, had called in sick that day with flu symptoms.
The next day, LCHD received two new reports of individuals with Salmonella infections who had eaten at Chili’s on June 26, while Chili’s management reported six more ill employees.
With evidence of the outbreak-source growing increasingly clear, investigators returned to the restaurant to instruct employees on hand-washing procedures, require the use of nailbrushes, and to issue a glove-use order. This meant that no further bare-hand contact of food was to be allowed at the restaurant.
Due to the large number of ill employees, and the high potential for spread of this illness, Chili’s was required to cease all operation or face suspension or revocation of its food service permit, at which time Chili’s management made the decision to voluntarily close the establishment. Despite the initially voluntary closure of the restaurant, Chili’s management pushed to re-open almost immediately, arguing that workers from other restaurants could safely run the operation. LCHD refused because the source of Salmonella was still not known, and it could have been in a food item still on the premises, or some other contamination at the restaurant itself.